Flint, Michigan, is the birthplace of both General Motors and the United Auto Workers union (UAW), which makes the recent demise of Buick City, its last automobile assembly plant, more than a little ironic. In June, GM closed Buick City, idling 2,200 hourly workers at a plant that once employed 28,000 building Buick LeSabres and Pontiac Bonnevilles. About one-third of the laid-off workers will be eligible for retirement benefits, while the remaining two-thirds could be called to work at other facilities.

Since the late 1970’s, GM has eliminated more than 250,000 jobs, including 50,000 in the Flint area. Buick City’s closure is part of GM’s strategy to eliminate up to 50,000 more jobs at its North American operations in the next few years. Once criticized as “Generous Motors,” the automaker is slashing jobs in response to Wall Street’s demands that it make itself more competitive in the global economy. GM has built automobiles in Flint since 1904. No more.

“This action is one more example of the ‘America last’ strategy that’s driving the biggest corporations in the U.S. to cut the guts out of the economic future of today’s workers and their children,” UAW President Stephen Yokich said. “Closing this facility is a betrayal of GM’s workforce, of the community and of the country . . . ” Union officials noted that GM is building eight plants overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor costs. The UAW, unable to stop the shutdown of auto towns like Flint, has settled for collective bargaining agreements that require GM to offer remaining employees jobs at other facilities.

Flint autoworkers went on strike for 54 days last year in response to fears that GM planned to send their blue-collar jobs to Mexico as a result of NAFTA. “General Motors would love to pull out, not just out of Flint, but out of the United States,” one striker said as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” blared out of a picketline loudspeaker. “They’ve got our backs against the wall.” The strike at two Flint GM facilities eventually idled more than 190,000 CJM workers nationwide, effectively shutting down the corporation’s North American operation. The UAW was born during the sit down strikes in Flint in the mid-1930’s, but the reaction this time was very different. “They’re toast,” one Wall Street analyst said of Flint autoworkers when the strike finally ended.

NAFTA critic Pat Buchanan received 37 percent of the vote in Michigan’s 1996 GOP primary, his best performance in any state. Buchanan benefited from UAW members in blue-collar locales like Flint who crossed over to cast a ballot for his “America First” agenda. But in the next election, with the Republicans seemingly poised to nominate George W. Bush and the Democrats set to pick Al Gore, there are few options—economic or political—for the former autoworkers of Buick City.